NVS Blog

The Perfect (Elevator) Pitch

Aileen Pincus

Aileen Pincus

One of the most important things a businessperson can do — especially an owner or someone who is involved in sales—is learn how to speak about his business to others. Being able to sum up unique aspects of your service or product in a way that excites others should be a fundamental skill. Yet many executives pay little attention to the continuing development of “the elevator pitch” — the quick, succinct summation of what your company makes or does.

As your audience’s needs and expectations change, make sure you change the way you speak about your business. Your language, your approach, and what you choose to highlight for a particular audience has got to change over time.That’s too bad, because the elevator pitch — so named because it should last no longer than the average elevator ride — is far too important to take casually. It’s one of the most effective methods available to reach new buyers and clients with a winning message. True, you may not actually be doing the pitching in an elevator, but even if your meeting is a planned, sit-down event, you should still be prepared to capture your audience’s attention quickly.

Keep It Fresh
Every business grows and changes, and your pitch needs to grow and change with it. You can have the most creative logo, the slickest slogan, the most dazzling brochures, and the most cutting-edge website, but if your elevator pitch is out of date, you’re missing one of your most important opportunities to “brand.”

You know your business better than anyone. How are you keeping abreast of the latest ideas? What continues to set you apart from your competition? How can you speak about your record of quality goods and services and make it relevant to your future plans?

As your audience’s needs and expectations change, make sure you change the way you speak about your business. Your language, your approach, and what you choose to highlight for a particular audience has got to change over time.

For instance, what has worked in years past with print and broadcast audiences could bore an online audience to tears. You wouldn’t think of not updating your other sales and marketing materials, so why would you let your elevator pitch grow stale?

Knowing your business, product, service, or issue well is one thing, but how do you convey excitement and spark interest to those outside your organization? What do you highlight? What do you leave out? And how do those choices change with your audience?

Always Be Prepared
In the early days of my executive coaching firm, I’d worked out an elevator speech with three quick points about what set our training services apart. It was working well, and I’d gotten comfortable, perhaps too comfortable, with using it.

One day, I won a brief introduction to a client in an industry we hadn’t trained in before. After my standard elevator speech (in a hallway this time), this decision-maker smiled and said: “Frankly, lowest cost isn’t necessarily our highest priority. I’d need to know a lot more about how you might add value to our existing efforts at training, not just your cost—and you’d need to convince me your firm could handle something we don’t already offer our type of demanding professional.”

He disappeared before I could recover. I didn’t have another chance with him for almost a full year. When that time came, I’d made sure to learn all I could about the training his company already had in place and the precise value we could add to existing efforts.

I’d already taken the lesson to heart: Adjust the pitch to the person who is listening, and refine it as you and your business continue to grow and change. It worked, and we’ve since been able to win that valuable account and many others in the same industry.

I’ve been on the other side of the less-than-perfect pitch, too. At a conference, a young businesswoman approached me to introduce herself and her web-building services. She was eager and confident, but after a few minutes of hearing about her competitive pricing, her creativity, and a few of her clients, I said: “Well I hear from a lot of design services, and it’s hard to tell the real differences between you. What do you think really sets your work apart for someone like me in a services industry?”

The question obviously caught her off-guard, and she admitted she didn’t have an answer. An honest answer, but not a first impression that achieved her goal of getting a second meeting.

Continually perfecting the elevator pitch ensures that you are always able to put your best foot forward as your business grows and changes and your client base expands.
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Aileen Pincus writes the “Speaking of Business” column for BusinessWeek.com’s Managing channel. She is President of The Pincus Group Inc., an executive coaching firm that offers training in presentation, speech, media, and crisis communications.

This article has been reprinted with permission.

I welcome your comments! No part of this article may be reproduced in any manner without permission and attribution.

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  • http://twitter.com/GuidoKerkhof Guido Kerkhof

    Great post – good point to adjust the pitch regularly in order to keep it fresh. Depending on context of the industry or audience the added value or USP’s can indeed vary. Thanks! It’s a good reminder to adjust the pitches for my startups (and personal pitch) again.

  • admin

    I’m ashamed to admit when I first heard the phrase years ago I thought it was something else altogether. But I was half right. It should take no longer than the time it takes to share an elevator ride with someone. If you can’t get out the main points of what you do fast, you may not have a second chance to make that first impression. It also forces you to choose your words carefully. Leave out the filler crap and catch phrases and learn how to speak about your business organically.

  • http://www.gerekallen.com Gerek Allen

    Great topic to talk about. It’s so important to have a well-thought out elevator pitch but more importantly the elevator pitch must be solve a problem for the potential customer.

    So many people always talk about their business and they forget the most important thing… to solve the problem of the customer!

    Great elevator speeches solve problems.

  • Elaine Spitz

    I’m always thinking about and revising (in my head) the elevator pitch for my business. Depending upon the audience, just the tone of your voice can convey the sense of excitement about what you do and can offer to a potential client.

    I used to have a boss who hounded his sales staff relentlessly about our elevator pitch, so much so that we overthought it and were afraid to offer suggestions to the team. The value of the elevator pitch cannot be over-estimated, but over-thinking it can be detrimental! Work out a couple of approaches, then use them – tweak as needed! Thanks!

  • http://stephen-combs.com Steve Combs

    Patricia, I am a HUGE fan of the elevator pitch. Too many small business owners don’t understand how to keep the main thing, the MAIN THING and the elevator pitch is key to this concept.

    Thanks for sharing this with your readers. I hope they take it to heart and put it into practice!

  • http://waggem.com Georgenne Eggleston

    The elevator pitch has been around for so long that you would think this comes naturally to anyone in business, but it does not. Melanie Jordan, a specialist working with information entrepreneurs says that many tell her, “I do not know what I know.” They know a lot but have a hard time narrowing down their specialty. She writes for the examiner.com and is on LinkedIn as well.

    Patricia, both of these articles speak to me personally. I do need to work on my business elevator speech. Thanks for the information.

  • http://thedoctorwriter.wordpress.com/ Leigh Ann Otte

    This is just the type of information I need right now, as I build my freelance writing business. I’m subscribing to this blog’s feed.

    One thing I wonder: With writing, I have many offerings and can help many potential clients. How many elevator pitches do I need to have? Maybe I should focus on what makes me stand out, as you mentioned at the end of the post, rather than trying to build a pitch for everything I offer.

    Anyway, good food for thought. Thanks.

  • http://bizzantik.com Lisa Kelly Zuba

    Aileen is right on with this article about elevator pitches.

    Especially her painful reminder to adjust the pitch to the audience. An elevator pitch is just like giving a speech — know your audience.

    Have you ever been in the situation when someone gives you their elevator speech, and you have absolutely no idea what they do, who they do it for or why? Unfortunately, it happens all too often. It drives me crazy!

    In fact, this is a good reminder. I’m going to revisit mine right now and see if it needs some adjusting!